Geno Groft has been officiating local basketball for 49 years and umpiring softball for 38
Geno Groft still remembers the advice he received from his youth basketball coach almost 70 years ago.
A third-grader at Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary School in McSherrystown in 1947, Groft and his teammates were given one strict rule at the beginning of the season.
"My coach, Mr. Wierman, he told me to never question an official, no matter what the call," Groft said. "I always took that to heart."
Now 78, Groft still demands that same respect every time he steps on to a basketball court or softball field in York and Adams counties. The veteran official finished his 49th season officiating basketball in Pennsylvania and just began his 38th season umpiring softball.
Groft also currently coaches golf at Hanover High School and previously coached basketball at Delone Catholic and Littlestown. In fact, Groft has had so many positions throughout his career that he said it's difficult for him to keep track of them all.
He still routinely works three to four games a week in the winter and spring. Even with his 50th season officiating sports approaching, Groft doesn't plan on stopping anytime soon.
"I still enjoy it and I'm going to keep doing it until I don't enjoy it anymore or until my legs give out," he said.
A 1956 graduate of Delone Catholic, Groft played basketball in high school and looked for ways to stay involved with the game after he graduated. He first officiated at age 29, officiating junior high and CYO games in the Hanover area.
He eventually moved up to the high school level and became an official in the Gettysburg chapter (previously separate from the York chapter) of the PIAA before joining the YAIAA in 1987. By then, his involvement in the local sports scene had spread to both coaching and umpiring.
The McSherrystown native began umpiring softball games at Gettysburg College in 1977, coaching boys' basketball at Delone Catholic in 1982 and coaching golf at Hanover in 1984. In order to coach and referee basketball at the same time, he switched between officiating varsity and junior varsity depending on what level he was coaching.
He managed to juggle those commitments while working a full-time job as a welder at AMECO and raising two children. Looking back now, Groft still isn't sure how he did it all.
"Well it wasn't easy, I'll tell you that," he said. "It was very, very tough and I was usually on the go 15, 16 hours in a day."
So what made working so many hours worth it?
"I enjoy working with kids and I've always had a good rapport with kids," Groft said. "I think teaching kids is important, and it's something I always wanted to do."
Balancing multiple jobs gave Groft the unique perspective of being on both sides of the coach-referee relationship. Having done both, Groft said he always went out of his way to be respectful to officials when he was coaching.
And just like his old coach did for his youth team, Groft set an important rule for his players about speaking to referees.
"I told my players to never question an official because they were doing their best and it was my job to ask them questions," Groft said. "I was very strict about that."
Groft admits that not every coach he's encountered during his officiating career has given him the same treatment. But while he's received his fair share of criticism, he said he's only given out five technical fouls in 49 years.
"You can't have rabbit ears and do this job," Groft said. "If they get radical you have to let it go in one ear and out the other. But coaches respect me and know I don't put up with any crap."
According to fellow veteran referee Dave Concino, Groft's longevity and no-nonsense approach have made him a natural mentor to younger officials in the YAIAA.
Concino, who is 64 and began officiating in the late 1970s, said he's amazed at the work ethic and fitness level Groft has maintained. He admitted there is "no way" he will be a referee when he turns 78.
"The longevity at his age, just because of all the running and endurance that is needed, is incredible," Concino said. "Most people need a breather once basketball season is over. And he goes from sport to sport."
Groft served as head boys' basketball coach at Littlestown from 1987 to 1991 and was an assistant for the girls' basketball team in the mid-1990s, but he stepped down from coaching basketball in 1996 because "it was just getting to be too much." He also stopped umpiring college softball games and focused on YAIAA high school games after the 1993 season.
His career might be winding down, but Groft still has goals he wants to accomplish. He's only officiated a YAIAA title game once in his career, and the 78-year-old is hoping to get another crack at it before he retires.
"That is probably my favorite memory," he said. "I'd like to do it again, if the opportunity arises."